Learning center

Why should learning be as powerful as technology in digital transformation?

What is the problem? What does it take to design, implement and engage in impactful learning in technology-rich environments? Before I leave this article, no, I don’t mean tech-rich learning environments. Post-COVID, much has been written about different modalities, different online tools, and different virtual learning environments. We, in learning roles and functions, pay a lot of attention to this kind of digital. We may pay less attention to the learning impact of how strategic vision and organizational performance are increasingly digitally dependent. How Is Is organization-wide digital transformation impacting learning?

What is digital transformation?

Let’s start by looking at what we mean by digital transformation. The word “transformation” suggests it has a beginning and an end, while Harvard Business Review’s wise commentary describes it as a journey.

We can categorize digital transformation in different ways. HBR’s four pillars talk about modernizing today’s IT, digitizing business processes/operations, digital marketing, and new ventures. An alternative is to see digital technology as adding value by increasing efficiency, facilitating collaboration and improving products and services. Others might say that digital transformation is data-driven, because data has the power to disrupt.

At the heart of all definitions is the shift from IT as a cost center to digital technology as a profit center that generates sustainable competitive advantage. Once here, you move on to the digital capability (the skills, behaviors, and mindsets) that support the use of digital technology as a driver of business value, realize they are in short supply, and so move on. using learning to increase the digital capacity of the organization.

Organizations with a mature learning culture can then monitor the improvement of their employee value proposition when digital capability learning opportunities are part of their attraction and retention strategy. If you don’t invest in digital capabilities, your digital maturity will fail to keep up with the industry, let alone lead it. Ask yourself: what is your organization’s ability to continuously advance in digital transformation, when that means a digital transformation perspective on everything an organization does?

Haven’t we always tied learning to business value?

Why might the role of a Chief Learning Officer change due to digital transformation? Learning has always been the driver of performance, hence the Kirkpatrick model, the learning transfer evaluation model or the value of learning transfer – what is so different about it? digital era?

Short-lived perishable skills

For CLOs, a crucial trend is the increasing rate at which technical skills perish. Indeed, recent wisdom has involved debating whether the preferred and most valuable skill is the willingness and ability to learn and how formal the learning should be. A banking client recently told me that he often prefers to hire chamber coders over computer science graduates because they themselves adapt and manage what and how they learn to meet the needs of the business. ‘company. Learning becomes work like never before.

A critical risk of creating well-crafted content to engage a time-poor technical employee is how quickly it becomes stale. Should education evolve towards a broader base that teaches learners to self-manage their own careers? And should they be able to understand and even predict what they need to learn in order to improve business and create a desire to learn more? Is technology-enabled, learning-enhanced career management the answer to rapid change?

Career self-management

While it may be ideal for people to self-manage their careers, there are unlikely to be enough people out there naturally. For many employees, the perishability of skills makes them vulnerable. The mastery of technical skills that is sought and fought for is all too easily lost in a flash. Suddenly, the normal learning and development paradigm of learning opportunities taking people from a safe zone to a stretch zone – while avoiding the panic zone – becomes more difficult to manage because the zone of panic becomes too much of a natural habitat for too many learners.

Panic can set in, not only among those with perishable technical skills that require constant upgrading, but also among those whose professional roles have disappeared and who now must transition into technical roles. Their vulnerability as their professional identity drastically changes is logically emotionally elevated.

Retraining or upskilling often needs to be supported by an understanding of how individuals’ personal transformation is part of an essential and challenging digital transformation, giving meaning to the personal journey. It should also include aspects of wellbeing and resilience, learning to learn, and overt training on how to relate to people in new ways to use the new professional identity effectively and efficiently.

Career self-management must be taught and encouraged. It cannot be assumed that it occurs alongside learning. Yet historically, traditionally, career management was not on the agenda of a CLO, lest staff leave for another position.

Sustainable skills

What about sustainable skills as part of career and capacity management in companies undergoing digital transformation? Sustainable skills facilitate business partnerships by promoting and enabling this blend (so vital for digital transformation) of technical and business. The risk here is that technical staff who need communication skills, emotional intelligence, presentation skills, or stakeholder management, may struggle if they learn these skills in the same way as sales staff.

Technical roles tend to have a higher percentage of neurodiverse personnel where emotions can manifest in different ways. Technical staff with high analytical skills may find it frustrating to work with commercial staff because they consider social norms and practices, such as the inclusion of politically important stakeholders with varying interpretations, as important as sound analysis. Technical staff need to learn lifelong skills (often also called soft, soft, or critical skills) in a different way than sales staff, just as sales staff need to understand technology in a different way than technical staff.

Role of action and mentalities

Another risk is the gap between knowledge and action in digital transformation, which has been carefully studied by MIT. It’s one thing to know about digital transformation, it’s another to act. Staff tend to wait for others to act before joining.

Adopting a growth mindset closes this gap between knowledge and action. A growth mindset means that staff seek out and consider new digital initiatives and that line managers support such behaviors. Changing mindsets is a relatively new agenda in learning and development, and tricky when combined with that sense of personal vulnerability to the change brought about by digital transformation. Who has not felt vulnerable to new technologies, whether technically advanced (in a now inherited system)? Or a staff member at a company using Power BI rather than familiar spreadsheets?

Innovate for digital transformation

To avoid dismissing the role of digital learning environments, I argue that we spend too much time thinking that modality is distinct and should not be confused with the role of the learner, their vulnerability and the changes in professional identity. Given their vulnerability profile, given their ability or inability to self-manage their careers, given their organization’s specific next steps in their digital journey, different digital learning modalities and formats might work less or more.

Let’s look at some examples. A self-paced course on “Essentials of Digital Transformation” might be suitable for the C-suite, as they are motivated to check their basic level of understanding before entering the more exposed environment of improving social skills around digital transformation.

For software engineers, open communities can serve their needs because learning from peers and sharing with peers is considered the norm. Faced with the challenge of implementing the promise of agility, learning design can mean face-to-face group coaching combined with individual coaching.

When working with teams that include both technical and business personnel, relationship-based discursive approaches using storytelling and conversation analysis to examine how new shared and useful meaning is created over time can be powerful. The design of the learning, the learner’s availability outside of work and the budget can affect the choice of modality. The modality can open new conceptions of learning.

Call to Action for CLOs

Digital transformation for CLOs should not only mean how technologies change the design, engagement and impact of learning. CLOs must also design learning that leverages digital transformation, putting learning center stage, following in the footsteps of how technology has evolved from a cost driver to a profit driver.

Given the personal vulnerabilities of employees – whose active participation is necessary to make digital transformation a success – examine different motivations to learn, based on different roles and examine how these roles add business value in the digital age, is essential to presence, profile and productivity.

Artwork by Yion Lim.